Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220-239)

30 NOVEMBER 2004


  Q220 Chairman: Croatia is rather hoping to be a member by 2008.

  Ms Pierce: 2009.

  Mr MacShane: That is what they are hoping for and I think they can achieve that. I am saying that by the end of this decade, if Serbia were to comply fully with ICTY and help us solve Kosovo, I see no reason why Serbia should not be knocking on the door of both NATO and the EU by the end of this decade. It needs a different approach from Belgrade and there is not one thing that London, Brussels or Washington can do, that needs to happen from within the countries themselves.

  Chairman: That is important.

  Q221 Andrew Mackinlay: I can only speak for myself because I have not discussed it with other colleagues, but the impression I got was that the Federation of Serbia-Montenegro was a wholly artificial rump state. To a large extent it was a fiction. The reality is that for many years the United Kingdom and other Western countries gave a de facto recognition to Montenegro and the then President Djukanovic. They have an economy based upon the euro and they have an audience, probably rightly, in London and elsewhere because you have to deal with them as they are de facto a government. This struck me—I think you portrayed it a few moments ago when you almost proudly said: "What a wonderful thing we have done to hold Serbia and Montenegro together"—as being crazy. One thing is almost a racing certainty that in two years time Montenegro is going to be independent. I want to conclude on this. In fact, that could be the unlocking mechanism for a lot of these things because it could be that country could be fast-tracked into the European Union. It is small to absorb and has an economy comparable to Malta or potential Malta and so on. Also, that would mean it would probably be easier to unlock Kosovo from Serbia and do Serbia a favour by indicating the carrot of the European Union membership. That seems to me to dissolve the final rump of Yugoslavia and probably would be beneficial to all three. You commended our previous report and in our previous report we expressed concern about—I am not sure what words we used—the fact that there was no diplomatic representation in Podgorica, and again, I think my colleagues were horrified that although there was a highly professional, dedicated and talented locally-engaged member of staff in Podgorica there was no full-time diplomat. It seemed to us that was foolhardy in the extreme. It meant we were not building up credits with what is probably highly likely to be an independent Montenegro in a little while. It contrasted with other European major players and, also, in terms of a listening post and the traditional job of a diplomat it could not be done adequately from Belgrade. What say you?

  Mr MacShane: If you go back to your report, Mr Mackinlay, which I do not have quite by heart, so I have it here to refresh my memory, you say that the United Kingdom Government and press on Montenegro and Serbia say that isolation is not an option and European integration would depend on neighbourly co-operation and integration. I think Mr Solana, who principally brokered the relationship between Serbia and Montenegro, took heart from those recommendations. I fully accept that there are voices in Montenegro that call for a split. One thing I have really learned in the three years of dealing with the Western Balkans ministerially is that there are no racing certainties except that next year there will be a lot of problems that have not been solved. I am not quite sure I would say that a split and a different state of Montenegro was that fast around the corner but if they vote for it, that is their business. We opened a British office in Podgorica last year, we have a very, very good person down there and our ambassador travels regularly, and we have very good links. I have to say that no one in three years of visiting the region has said to me they want somehow a sub-embassy or more than we have in Montenegro.

  Q222 Chairman: Before Mr Mackinlay comes back on this, why is there no person UK-based in Podgorica.

  Mr MacShane: It is simply a question of resources. We have a locally-engaged person and sometimes I find our locally-engaged staff are completely loyal to HMG—

  Q223 Chairman: There is no doubt about their loyalty.

  Mr MacShane:— speak the language fluently—

  Q224 Andrew Mackinlay: That is not an issue, Minister. I could not have commended her more highly, so that is agreed ground, but there is a world of difference. It does not matter if she was the Archangel Gabriel, she is not a British diplomat and there does need to be someone there. Our colleagues in the European Union do have diplomatic representation there and also, you have avoided this, our report—and I am not saying you have to accept our report but you commended it—pointed out to   you four years ago that there should be representation there. We are saying to you that it is madness them not being there. I hear what you say about the future but it is frankly highly likely that Montenegro will be de jure independent but de facto it is independent. The thin tissue which holds Serbia Montenegro together is a fiction—never mind what the great Mr Solana says—it really does not exist. The Foreign Minister of the Federation can say what he likes but it does not commit Prime Minister Djukanovic, it is independent. So why not face the facts and also look upon it as an unlocking mechanism?

  Mr MacShane: To answer the three or four separate points there, the Committee's report in 2001 said that we should have a permanent post in Montenegro and we have established that, I accept not with an English-born diplomat, but this is a serious question of resources and perhaps the Foreign Affairs Committee will be taking evidence about the problems of resourcing the FCO at the moment. I am personally happy that I get all the reporting I need as a minister on what is happening in Montenegro from our people down there. A lot of Montenegrins come through London and these are no longer far away places of which we know nothing, and the classic diplomatic post is not necessarily the only way in which to stay in touch with a country. On the issue of Serbia and Montenegro being a fiction, that may be of interest to the new ambassador of Serbia and Montenegro who has taken up the post here who is a Montenegrin. On the issue of saying they are coming into the EU tomorrow, I have to say as delicately as I can that there is a huge crime problem in Montenegro. If you talk to Italian colleagues you will find that concerns them greatly, so the notion that Montenegro is a little Switzerland or a little Luxembourg which can join the EU tomorrow is not something which anybody in the rest of Europe would accept. So it does not unlock all of the other problems. It is not for me to pre-judge what the Montenegrins decide to do with Montenegro over the coming years, but we have worked as hard as we can as Britain and as Europe and the international community to make the most and best sense of that relationship.

  Chairman: Before we go on to Bosnia, Sir John has a question.

  Q225 Sir John Stanley: If Montenegro in 2006 votes for independence in the referendum, will the British Government accept the result?

  Mr MacShane: Yes. I do not see that we are going to do anything other than accept that result. The terms of that independence will have to be defined in relation to Serbia but I cannot imagine the British Government as it were saying that Montenegro cannot have its independence, and there will be UN   questions to answer. It depends what its constitutional arrangements are, whether it respects European norms and values. I do not want to say independence on any terms, declared by any faction which can get a majority vote in the plebiscite. There are a lot of qualifiers to it but there is nobody in Britain saying, "Under all circumstances, under all conceivable future scenarios, the only future state we will accept is a merged Serbia Montenegro." There is nobody in Belgrade who argues that and nobody in Montenegro who argues that, it will depend on developments.

  Q226 Sir John Stanley: Minister, at one of our meetings in Belgrade, one of our senior meetings, the view was put to us that there was a rising tide of Milosevic sympathisers within the police and the armed forces. Is that the perception of the British Government?

  Mr MacShane: Not speaking Serbian, not talking to every level of the hierarchy in the country, I genuinely cannot say. I am not ducking the question. I have not had that report directed to me. Clearly, Mr Milosevic plays on a lot of nationalist sympathy and sentiment in Serbia. I see the Serbs trapped almost in a triple victimhood—a victim of the old Communist regime, a victim of Milosevic, a victim as they see it of the NATO intervention—and now perhaps a fourth victim, a victim of the appeals Mr Milosevic makes on television from the ICTY Tribunal. Our job I think is to invite our friends in Serbia to release themselves from that straitjacket and conceive of a better and different future. I can only make that appeal and again everything I say to the Committee I assure you I have said on the record and in private regularly in Belgrade. I just wish every other European government—and I do not mean to criticise any of our partners—and every other European parliament was engaged as solidly as this Committee is, and I hope the Foreign Office is under Jack Straw and the work I carry out.

  Q227 Ms Stuart: I am very happy to have a written answer to this because it may be slightly technical. Given the current constitutional arrangements and if the European constitution were to be accepted, presumably there would be a new position on the acknowledgement of independence following a referendum. Would the UK Government still be actually able on its own to accept the independence or would it be bound by a European Union decision?

  Mr MacShane: No, the Treaty which is now on the table, as you know, the relevant CFSP clause, says that no foreign policy position can be adopted save on the basis of unanimity.

  Q228 Ms Stuart: No, the overall policy is by unanimity and then the precise decisions will be by QMV[17]Take my word for it

  Mr MacShane: With respect—

  Ms Stuart: I really would like this in writing.

  Q229 Chairman: Minister, do write to us on that.

  Mr MacShane: You do not have a CFSP[18]position unless it is agreed with unanimity. The implementation of it could be carried out on QMV but since any state has bilateral state relationships by definition—unless the EU of 25 agrees they will recognise Montenegro or recognise State X or Y if an island pops up in the middle of the Pacific—then Britain has its own bilateral diplomatic relations

  Q230 Ms Stuart: Because the obverse of that would be that Greece could scupper the acknowledgement of, say, Macedonian independence in a recognition by the EU, could it not?

  Mr MacShane: Mr Chairman, I do not know if my hon. friend was here last week when we had the evidence on Cyprus, but it seemed to cause outrage to certain members that the European Union could not impose its collective view and allow direct flights to Cyprus, and I made the point that certain members of the Committee were those who were the most strenuous in upholding national vetoes. What is a national veto for Britain is a national veto for Greece or anywhere else.

  Q231 Ms Stuart: I really would appreciate having that in writing. Not on the current situation but on the text of the—

  Mr MacShane: On the current Treaty?

  Ms Stuart: Yes.

  Q232 Chairman: We have Bosnia and Herzegovina to deal with. First on Bosnia, the Committee took oral evidence in public from Lord Ashdown, and I must say there was widespread commendation of the work of Lord Ashdown when we were in Bosnia, that he and others see the process as a reduction of his powers, do you accept this? How should this reduction be brought about?

  Mr MacShane: Lord Ashdown has always said he wants to be the last High Representative and Secretary to the UN and the EU Special Representative. We certainly would like to see that happen. I have now been able to meet Bosnia and   Herzegovinian defence ministers—a defence minister certainly could not have existed before Lord Ashdown arrived there—and we want to see as much state administration in place as possible.

  Ms Pierce: May I add to that on the Bonn Powers particularly? They exist in two respects, one in respect of allowing Lord Ashdown to remove obstructionist officials and ministers—

  Q233 Chairman: The Berlin Accord?

  Ms Pierce: Yes.—and one in respect of imposing legislation. Over the past couple of years Lord Ashdown has reduced to virtually nil the amount of legislation he imposed. You know that following the decision in June that Bosnia was not ready for PfP[19]he exercised his Bonn Powers to remove 59 RS obstructionist officials. In our view, the removal powers are likely to be necessary for quite a while, not least because that is a guarantee, if you like, that Bosnia can keep making progress moving forward. Notwithstanding that, there may be some circumstances about to arise in which the only way to get certain legislation through Parliament might be imposition, particularly in respect of some of the economic legislation, but Lord Ashdown will use it sparingly and we would support that split between removals and imposition.

  Q234 Chairman: Thank you for that clarification. Minister, the Dayton Agreement imposed on Bosnia what must be one of the most complicated structures which any country could suffer. How do you see that being changed, although it may, I concede, reflect the ethnic realities on the ground?

  Mr MacShane: I come to this from a slightly different perspective, Mr Chairman, perhaps derived from having lived and worked for many years in Switzerland where you have nearly two dozen prime ministers, two dozen different police systems, education systems, other ministers all proclaiming pretty autonomous rights and a certain amount of power seceded to the Swiss Confederal level. I am also nervous of the notion that somehow the fewer elected and accountable people there are the better. I am not in favour of just one or two elected politicians and the rest of them are all bureaucrats. Dayton was very complicated but let us also acknowledge that under Dayton Bosnia Herzegovina has been able to come to an increasing modus vivendi where, certainly under Lord Ashdown's leadership, we have seen a lot of progress. The killings are not happening, there is greater integration between the communities—much more with the Bosnia Croat community I accept than with the Serb community—and if there is political will in Bosnia Herzegovina right through the three communities then I think quite swift strides can be made. I was just one personal witness of the transformation of Sarajevo in three years, which was quite remarkable. It was a very shabby, shell-marked, bullet hole-pocked, rather run-down city in 2001, and it has become a lot neater, has a lot more new buildings, is looking a lot brighter in 2004.

  Q235 Chairman: I understand in this relatively small country there are about 1,400 ministers. I am sure Switzerland does not quite run to that. On the next area, you have described the complicated structure; do you think that structure in itself would be a barrier to eventual EU entry?

  Mr MacShane: I do not think the present constitution is as EU friendly or compatible as one should wish. Also, we have got to be careful to say that the EU has got a model constitution which countries have to adopt.

  Q236 Chairman: Belgium.

  Mr MacShane: I was trying to do the sums in my head, but I am afraid I failed that 1898 entrance test into King Edward's school that was in the papers the other day. There is one elected official for every 300 US citizens, so I was desperately trying to work out what 300 into 250 million was. I think that is scores of thousands of elected officials.

  Chairman: Point made.

  Q237 Andrew Mackinlay: The point is not accepted by me because, as both of you have raised Belgium and the United States, one thing you have is constitutional symmetry. In this particular Bosnia-Herzegovina you have not got that. You have got the state which is deemed with broad foreign policy affairs, probably are not working well; see the United Nations. Then you have the semi-autonomous Republika Srbska which has domestic functions that we are familiar with around the world, in states, provinces and even in Scotland. But when you come to the rest of the state, you have these numerous cantons—a bit of a misnomer—and the federation level. That cannot possible endure, can it? It cannot be conducive to state building, it cannot be conducive to commerce, it cannot be conducive to mobility of labour and freedom of movement, all of which are essential ingredients to the European Union. I understand the necessity and arguably it has worked rather well. It has brought some peace, but in terms of progress the constitution is going to mean that things could just stand still and fossilise.

  Mr MacShane: I do not entirely agree with that. I do cite the example of defence where a state ministry and an integrated military structure are coming into being.

  Q238 Andrew Mackinlay: I accept that.

  Mr MacShane: That has happened in the last couple of years. I can foresee progress in other areas. I do not want to go into other countries. I have just finished reading Robert Carey's biography of Lyndon Johnson in the Senate and the speeches about states' rights and that no federal authority would tell the state of Alabama or Georgia what it could do inside its own state area were quite Bosnian in their intensity in the 1950s, but things move on.

  Q239 Andrew Mackinlay: Let us move on to the problems. Clearly, the fact is that the Republika Srpska is not complying or collaborating with ICTY. Is that going to be an impediment for the whole of the rest of the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina and perhaps its aspirations to join the European Union and other international institutions? You cannot have Srpska holding back the rest, can you?

  Mr MacShane: I think Lord Ashdown is moving forward to get police reform through on the basis of the constitutional settlement under Dayton. This complicated cantonal federalistic system was the price for walking out of Dayton and stopping the fighting and I think it was a price worth paying. Certainly, you are right to say that one of the Big Three of the wanted ICTY indictees, Karadzic, is not being adequately chased, hunted down and sought for by the Republika Srpska authorities. What we have said, very clearly, and this is accepted, is that we will only deal with one state level authority. The fact that a bit of Bosnia-Herzegovina or a region or an area or one community has not got the problems with ICTY that those Serbs protecting Karadzic, have does not mean they get to join PfP or get onto an EU track. Clearly, we have said, and that is the position of the entire international community irrespective of what positions people started from or where they are today, that there is one country, one sovereign UN recognised Republika called Bosnia-Herzegovina and that is what we would deal with. It is the responsibility of all the people there, no matter what their religion or ethnic background is, to accept the responsibilities of producing what the European Union and the international community wants.

17   Qualified Majority Voting. Back

18   Common Foreign and Security Policy. Back

19   Partnership for Peace. Back

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